The methamphetamine convictions of Bob Sam Castleman, a former attorney and district judge from Pocahontas, were upheld Wednesday by a divided federal appeals court panel, with a dissenting judge saying jurors shouldn't have heard testimony that Castleman killed a co-defendant.
The two judges representing the majority said U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes was right to let Castleman's son, Jerrod Castleman, testify as the final witness against his father Dec. 18, 2013. Jerrod Castleman testified that his father admitted he had killed a mutual friend of theirs, 34-year-old Travis Wayne Perkins, to keep Perkins from testifying against the father and son in the drug case.
Later that day, jurors convicted the elder Castleman of conspiring to manufacture methamphetamine, conspiring to maintain a drug premises, and conspiring to possess meth-making equipment and ingredients.
Although Castleman hasn't been charged in the death of Perkins, Holmes allowed the testimony about Perkins' death as evidence of the former lawyer's consciousness of guilt on the methamphetamine charges.
Holmes then heard additional evidence on the slaying allegations at Castleman's sentencing Sept. 12 and decided the greater weight of evidence proved that he shot and killed Perkins early April 14, 2013, in Perkins' Pocahontas apartment. That triggered a sentencing enhancement that resulted in Castleman, then 63, being sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Perkins was scheduled to plead guilty April 18, 2013, under a cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors, and his intention to plead guilty was reported by a local newspaper April 11, 2013. He was found shot to death in his Pocahontas apartment April 15, 2013.
In deciding Castleman's appeal on the drug charges, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis noted that Jerrod Castleman told the jury that before Perkins died, the senior Castleman was upset that Perkins was likely to testify for the government and said Perkins "had to go."
Jerrod Castleman said his dad later told him "he did it," explaining that he entered Perkins' apartment in the middle of the night -- wearing a wig and a trench coat -- found Perkins asleep and shot him twice with a 9mm Glock handgun. Jerrod Castleman told jurors he thought the shots hit Perkins in the face and chest. He said his dad told him he then threw the gun, two clips, the wig and the trench coat into a river.
An FBI agent testified that Perkins was found lying on his bed with a gunshot wound near his nose and that police also found two spent 9mm casings that could have been fired from a Glock.
Another man, Doyle Esmon, also testified that Bob Sam Castleman told him "that he took care of business" after leaving his cellphone and a friend at a West Memphis dog track for several hours while he drove to Pocahontas on the back roads, shot Perkins and then returned to the track to meet up with his friend.
On appeal, Castleman argued that the evidence about Perkins' death should have been excluded under Federal Rule of Evidence 403 because its limited "probative value" was outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.
"Given appropriate deference to its balancing under Rule 403, we cannot say that the district court committed a clear abuse of discretion," U.S. Circuit Judge Diana Murphy of Minneapolis wrote on behalf of herself and U.S. Circuit Judge Steven Colloton of Des Moines, Iowa.
Murphy said Castleman also complained that the government didn't present adequate physical evidence to prove by the greater weight of evidence that he killed Perkins under circumstances that would constitute first-degree murder. But Murphy cited testimony that although ballistics experts couldn't determine whether the bullets used to kill Perkins were fired from the same gun that had been used to shoot trees at the Castleman property, "the same uncommon type of shell casings were found in both locations and there was evidence that Castleman owned the type of gun used to commit the murder."
In a partial dissent, U.S. Circuit Judge Jane Kelly of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, wrote, "In my view, the danger of unfair prejudice from introduction of the disputed evidence ... substantially outweighs its probative value."
She said that "evidence of a murder of a government witness, presented unexpectedly in the middle of a drug conspiracy trial, was inflammatory in nature, thereby adding to its prejudicial impact."
Kelly also said that even though Holmes gave jurors a limiting instruction on how to consider the slaying testimony, the risk that jurors improperly would apply that instruction to decide Castleman's guilt on the drug charges was "unacceptably high."
In May, Castleman was sentenced to a concurrent 21-month sentence in federal prison on a wire-fraud conspiracy charge for submitting a false burglary claim to an insurance company in 2012.
State prosecutors have said they would wait to decide whether to pursue a murder charge against Castleman until his federal cases are over.
Metro on 08/06/2015